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Griffin on Tech: Paddy's feisty debate with a sprinkling of tech

Peter Griffin, Editor. 29 September 2023, 9:47 am

My old journalism school classmate Paddy Gower did a good job this week of injecting some intensity into the second of three election leaders’ debates.

The Newshub debate was punchy, at times funny, and covered a lot of ground. Paddy even managed to squeeze in a few tech-related questions.

Given the supposed threat to national security posed by Chinese-owned TikTok, which has been banned on all devices with access to the Parliamentary network, neither Chris was willing to go for a blanket ban.

“I’m actually on TikTok. I do it on a separate device with security principles around it,” Christopher Luxon said.

Screenshot 2023-09-29 at 9.23.30 AM.png

                  The two Chrises at the Newshub Leaders Debate

TikTok, AUKUS and AI

On joining pillar 2 of the AUKUS agreement, which sees Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States collated on critical emerging technologies such as AI, quantum computing, and cybersecurity tools, both party leaders were clearly wary of upsetting our relationship with China.

“That’s really undefined, what’s called pillar 2 under AUKUS, we need to explore it and understand whether there’s anything New Zealand can participate in,” said Luxon.

“We already cooperate with all three of the AUKUS partners on all of those issues that you have just mentioned. My preference is some other arrangement,” said Hipkins.

Neither leader would commit to progressing a tax to help support people who lost their job because of artificial intelligence, which amounted to the first mainstream political discussion of AI since National released those weird AI-generated political adverts back in May.

Then it was back to the usual tropes of politics in 2023 - gangs, crime, sagging educational performance, the increasingly apparent impacts of climate change, and that foreign homebuyer’s tax Luxon is relying on to fund his tax cuts.

Tech hasn’t had much of a look in this election campaign cycle, despite it being a pivotal time to make some decisions on tech skills, emerging technologies, STEM education, and how we want the digital economy to operate.

National has won praise from the tech sector for its tech policy. If Labour has anything up its sleeve to bolster the high-wage paying, low-emissions economy tech enables, it’s leaving it late in the game just over two weeks out from us going to the polling booth.

NZTech, the umbrella group for 20 tech organisations representing 2,000 members, put out its tech manifesto last week, which sensibly builds on some of the work underway, but that is currently lackluster, underfunded, or uncoordinated.

NZTech proposes:

- Developing a national Digital Skills Strategy to coordinate public and private sector initiatives to lift digital skills

- Providing affordable internet access to all New Zealanders, including free internet access in all public housing

- Developing a climate technology roadmap for New Zealand’s Emissions Reduction Plan

- Enabling biotechnology investment through modifying New Zealand’s genetic modification laws

- Increasing investment in critical cybersecurity infrastructure and education for New Zealand businesses and the public

Minister of Tech

NZTech has also been successful in influencing National to create the role of minister of technology into its tech policy. That’s intended as more than just a name change from the current portfolio of minister of communications and the digital economy. National sees the tech minister working directly with the tech sector to implement policies. That engagement has been lacking in recent years.

As NZTech’s CEO Graeme Muller points out: “Tech’s influence is so significant it urgently requires dedicated Government leadership and oversight. This role should address a wide range of issues that collectively improves digital safety, and lifts equity, sustainability and prosperity for all in Aotearoa, by creating jobs, export growth and impact through tech for good.”

It’s fair to say that NZTech and the tech industry at large haven’t had much cut-through with Labour on issues that really matter, with a few exceptions, the tax rebates for video game developers being one of them. The thwarted efforts of tech luminaries to offer practical assistance during the pandemic highlighted the lack of an effective relationship.

They need your tech smarts

I’ve asked politicians about tech-related issues over the last few months, and the lack of depth or understanding in their responses has been concerning. It is plain that they need to draw on the sector’s expertise and understanding of what we need to actually be a small advanced nation capable of building a knowledge economy that lifts wages and lowers emissions.

The tech sector will of course tend towards lobbying and self-interest. But we have enough big and pressing issues that are holding back progress as other countries get their act together. During the next term of government, a more effective effort to work with politicians in the interests of the country to fast-track progress should be the number one priority for everyone in the sector.


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